COVID-19 Lockdowns Ineffective at Reducing Mortality: IEA Meta-Analysis

Originally published June 5, 2023 8:00 pm PDT

A new comprehensive study has called the COVID-19 lockdowns a “global policy failure of gigantic proportions.”

A peer-reviewed study conducted by Jonas Herby, Dr. Lars Jonung, and Professor Steve H. Hanke, and published by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), states that lockdowns had a negligible effect on COVID-19 mortality while exacting substantial social, cultural, and economic costs.

This systematic review and meta-analysis combed through an impressive 19,646 studies to determine the impact of lockdowns and non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) on COVID-19 mortality.

Of these, the authors selected 22 studies for their meta-analysis, all based on actual, measured mortality data, not modeling exercises.

The meta-analysis method is considered the gold standard for evidence, aggregating comparable, independent studies to discern overarching trends.

The authors delineate lockdowns as “the imposition of at least one compulsory, non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI).”

The findings of the meta-analysis were divided into three categories: lockdown stringency index studies, shelter-in-place-order (SIPO) studies, and specific NPI studies.

The results reveal that lockdowns in Europe and the United States in the spring of 2020 had a marginal effect on COVID-19 mortality, reducing deaths by just 3.2%.

Translated into actual numbers, “this equates to approximately 6,000 avoided deaths in Europe and 4,000 in the United States.”

SIPOs fared even worse, reducing COVID-19 mortality by a mere 2%, equating to roughly 4,000 avoided deaths in Europe and 3,000 in the United States.

Based on specific NPIs, the average lockdown in the same period reduced COVID-19 mortality by 10.7%, leading to approximately 23,000 avoided deaths in Europe and 16,000 in the United States.

Interestingly, these figures are considerably less than the estimated flu deaths in a typical year.

“In comparison, there are approximately 72,000 flu deaths in Europe and 38,000 flu deaths in the United States each year,” the authors wrote.

More granular findings indicated that “shelter-in-place (stay at home) orders in Europe and the United States reduced COVID mortality by between 1.4 and 4.1 per cent.”

Business closures and mask mandates in workplaces reduced mortality by 7.5% and 18.7%, respectively.

However, gathering limits “likely increased COVID mortality by almost six per cent,” while school closures resulted in a mortality reduction of between 2.5% and 6.2%.

The authors posited that voluntary changes in behavior, such as social distancing, played a significant role in mitigating the pandemic.

Still, harsher restrictions like stay-at-home rules and school closures produced only negligible health benefits while exacting significant costs.

“Our results are also supported by the natural experiments we have been able to identify,” the authors affirmed.

“The results of our meta-analysis support the conclusion that lockdowns in the spring of 2020 had a negligible effect on COVID-19 mortality,” the authors emphasized.

These findings stand in stark contrast to the Imperial College of London’s modeling exercises from March 2020, which predicted that lockdowns would save over 400,000 lives in the United Kingdom and over 2 million lives in the United States.

Their work underscores that the draconian policy failed to significantly reduce deaths while imposing substantial costs.

This comprehensive, 220-page book began with a systematic review of potentially relevant studies and concluded that COVID-19 lockdowns were largely ineffective at reducing mortality.